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Congress Passes Judiciary Act Of 1789


Article III of the Constitution establishes that there shall be a Supreme Court and other lower federal courts that Congress can create. Because Article III does not include many specifics about the structure of these courts, as one of its first orders of business, Congress passes the Judiciary Act of 1789. Sen. Oliver Ellsworth, who was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, takes the lead in drafting the legislation. This law creates a six-person Supreme Court (one chief justice and five associate justices) and three Circuit Courts and 13 District Courts in the major cities. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court has nine justices (the chief justice and eight associate justices), 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal (to hear appeals of trial courts) and 94 District Courts (the trial courts). Other federal cases are heard through the federal bankruptcy courts and the court of claims. The Constitution and this Act, which has been modified over the years, also clarified what limited types of cases would be heard in the federal courts, leaving all other matters to the state courts.